Although California’s dramatic and costly wildfires are the most likely to make the news, no state is immune from their devastating effects. Even tropical Hawaii has experienced wildfires on all of its islands. On average, the United States has about 100,000 wildfires each year, which burn over four million acres of land, according to data from the Business and Home Safety. The National Fire Protection Association estimates wildfires in 2007 resulted in $790 million dollars in property damage, excluding $1,800 million from that year’s California fire storms! As summer heats up, it’s a good time to reflect on your homeowners insurance policy and preventing wildfire damage.
It’s worth noting that all homeowner insurance policies provide coverage for loss that results from fire, regardless of its cause (the exception, of course, being you intentionally torching your home). But, as California and other residents of states considered to have high levels of wildfire exposure can attest, you may have to settle for an extremely high deductible to get reasonably affordable homeowners coverage, if you can get it at all.
Most states do offer homeowners coverage through the FAIR Plan (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements), a resource of last resort, or JUA (Joint Underwriting Association), if the private market won’t cover you. You also want to make certain that your homeowners insurance covers the replacement cost of your home rather than its cash value. This is particularly important if your property is in a high-risk area. Don’t rely on what you paid for your home; get two or three estimates from qualified appraisers. By the way, check your policy to make certain it covers soot and smoke damage, which can involve costly repairs even if your home escapes a fire.
Once you have adequate homeowners insurance coverage, protect your premium and your property with these proactive, preventive tips:
- Upgrade your home’s wiring or install a fire alarm with direct alert to an outside service. This not only helps prevent or lessen fire damage, it can result in up to 20% discount on your homeowners insurance policy.
- Replace highly combustible shake roofing and siding with fire-resistant materials.
- Install fire sprinkler systems.
- Cut back shrubbery, tree limbs and other combustible growth around your home.
- Create firebreaks such as cement walkways, driveways and gravel paths around your home.
- If you live in a rural area, be sure your access from the main road is clearly marked with your address so firefighters can find you.
- Have an evacuation plans for your family, pets and livestock.
- Test your smoke alarms and fire extinguishers regularly.
- Store firewood and other combustible materials well away from your home and garage.